‘Appy Days: The Mick Box Column (No. 16)
This week, the Uriah Heep guitarist celebrates Spurs winning an FA Cup match, grooves to Free while clearing out his son’s room, worries about new airport security measures, looks at record sales stats over the last year, congratulates Muse on winning an art prize, reveals how he tried (and failed) to learn the secrets of drinking vodka, and admires the world’s tallest building…
First things first: HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Well, it has been a good start to the week, as my sinus infection has at last disappeared, and to top that Spurs were on their home ground winning 4-0 over Peterborough in the FA Cup! Also in the FA Cup, Leeds beat Manchester United 1-0 which was amazing as Manchester are in the Premier League and Leeds in Football League One. Our manager Martin Darvill’s team is Leeds and Manchester United are Scampi our tour manager’s team, so you can imagine a few texts taking place, and some serious banter on that score. However I have just found out that in the next round it will be Spurs versus Leeds. Now that should be exciting!
With Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minister, sanctioning full body scanners at UK airports, I fear it will no longer be our normal two hours at the check in before departure, when we go on tour, but three hours or more. This will seriously slow everything down. It really has been a wake-up call, regarding airport security, after the failed Detroit plane attack recently, and because of this there really is a need to review the existing security measures. The trouble is that if we revert back to the one piece of hand luggage, we as a band could be in trouble, as we carry most of our guitars on board with us in soft bags, due to the heavy-handed approach taken by baggage handlers, who apparently enjoy destroying our instruments – and dropping them from a great height. We will just have to see how this pans out. The terrorist threats which loom over us day to day are really making it difficult for people to go about their daily business, but nothing will stop us, and we shall stay calm, and just carry on, as the title of the new Stereophonics CD suggests. That is an old war slogan and I like it!
At this time of year, in our household we always decide to clear every room out, and take as much as we can down to the local cancer charity shop on our high street. The saying in our house goes, that if you have not worn it, or indeed played it, or used it, over the last six months, then take it down to the cancer shop. Romeo will be nine years old at the end of this month, so we have moved him into a bigger bedroom, which he is delighted with. It has taken the best part of three days to get everything organised, but I am always glad that we have made the effort, and you end up with the feeling that you are on top of everything on the home front, to begin the year.
While doing the above work, I had the iPod on, and played a lot of music by the band Free (Paul Rodgers, Paul Kossoff, Simon Kirke and Andy Fraser). It was just wonderful! I had not listened to them for a while, but songs like Mr Big, All Right Now, The Stealer, Fire And Water, Wishing Well, The Hunter, Come Together in the Morning, My Brother Jake, Be My Friend, Travellin’ In Style and Don’t Say You Love Me are superb. Here is a band where all four components are completely original, and put together it made Free what they are: a first class band. I saw them in the early days when they started to make their mark in London, at a pub in Wood Green, and from that moment I was hooked. That night Kossoff was so into his playing that he had cut his finger; there was blood all over the guitar, but he was so in the moment, he just kept on playing. Kossoffs guitar style and vibrato are fabulous, and he is so laid back on some of the solos, and so in the pocket, it is brilliant. Many of today’s guitarists could learn a lot from his style of playing and feel. Rodgers’ voice is superb, and Fraser’s melodic bass lines are the perfect foil to Kirke’s rock solid, no-frills drum style.
I was interested to find out that from an online poll, the best art vinyl prize went to British Rockers Muse for their The Resistance cover. The sleeve, released on September 2009, was the work of London design firm La Boca. The cover is very colourful, and eye catching I must say. Second in the poll were the Manic Street Preachers for Journal For Plague Lovers, with Fever Ray’s self-titled album coming in third place. Massive Attack and Green Day rounded out the top five, and Art Vinyl director Andrew Heeps said the award, now in its fifth year, is a great way to celebrate the unsung heroes behind the art and design of some of our favourite bands and artists.
With a name like that (Heeps) I am surprised that the Uriah Heep album Wake The Sleeper (which was issued on vinyl in 2008, artwork by Ioannis), was not nominated. However one of the musical highlights of The Resistance by Muse is the three-part symphony Exogenesis that closes the album. It features an orchestra and piano along with Matthew Bellamy’s trademark falsetto. There is also a song called United States Of Eurasia that has a real Queen vibe to it in parts. It is a strong album and well worth a visit.
Another interesting fact was to find out that according to the BPI, that 4.22 million singles were sold in the last week of 2009, beating the previous record of 4.03 million. It is reported that MP3 players, given as presents at Xmas, have helped boost the UK single sales. Music Week editor Paul Williams said: “It has opened up downloading to people who have never done it before.” Digital sales now account for 98% of the singles market. Album sales were significantly down, hitting 3.16 million, almost 12% lower than the same period last year.
For the entire year of 2009, single sales increased by 32.7% to a record 152 million, with again 98% of them being from downloads.
The album sales for 2009, however, continued to fall, dropping by 3.5%, with sales in the region of 128.9 million. This is the fifth year in a row they have fallen, but this was eased a little, by a 56.1% rise in album downloads to 16.1 million, now accounting for one in eight sold.
When we toured Europe last year in November, December in support of our Celebration CD, Lady Gaga, who is the first number one star of the new decade, was everywhere. She was constantly on TV, radio and it seemed like every single video show. Thank goodness for bands like the Kings Of Leon who break into these single charts, or there would be no hope.
I read that President Dmitry Medvedev’s has put a minimum price on vodka in Russia. It is part of his plan to tackle alcoholism. The cheapest bottle will be on sale for 89 roubles ($3 or £1.80) for half a litre. Historically though, when things like this happen, it just pushes up the sales of illicit vodka, as you can buy the same half a litre for 40 roubles. If you remember, in the 1980s President Mikhail Gorbachev brought in an anti-alcohol campaign, and it was reported that people were drinking perfume and industrial alcohol as an alternative, which led to widespread death and injury. So that obviously didn’t work on any level. I have to say that when we were the first western rock band to play Moscow in December 1987, we had to take vodka off of our dressing room rider, and ban it from dinner tables, radio station interviews and the like, as it was so strong. We ended up cleaning our cymbals with it, and it would surely take the rust off your car. Saying that, there are some beautiful vodkas to be had in Russia, but they were saved for when we were back in the UK on home turf.
One time over there, Trevor Bolder (Heep bassist) and I were given vodka drinking lessons by a famous Russian DJ who lived in London during the communist regime. He lived in Camden, where he used to broadcast his music radio show over to Russia in the 70s. He was very famous for this as you can imagine, this being the only way they could hear rock music of the day, other than buying vinyl on the black market at extortionate prices. The promoter flew him over to work as an announcer on some of our high profile shows, and he introduced us each night. Those fans old enough to remember him enjoyed that.
After one of our shows, we were taken to a club for dinner, and he sat on a table with Trevor and me, and showed us all the tricks as regards drinking vodka, and not getting drunk, or even a hangover. This involved little bits to eat, salt, and putting pepper into the vodka to take out any of the impurities. Well, at the end of the evening both Trevor and I were certainly not capable of joined up talking, and it appeared that not one bone in our bodies would work either. As we left the club to go back to the hotel, outside there was snow six feet high, and it was 30 degrees below. Trevor tried walking towards the waiting car, and ended up looking like a new born baby giraffe trying to walk on ice, with his legs going in every direction. I could not stop laughing! Needless to say the DJ was wrong on all counts, as the hangover in the morning was akin to a marching band in the head, and our mouths were like the inside of a Japanese wrestler’s jock strap.
Wow, have you seen the tallest building in the world in Dubai costing $1.5 billion (£930 million), and has a height of 828m? What an amazing feat, despite the embarrassment of getting financial help from Abu Dhabi. It was originally going to be called Burj Dubai but it is now known as Burj Khalifa, in honour of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan President of the United Arab Emirates who helped with the financing. There are 1,044 apartments, 9 hotels, 57 lifts (the double-decker elevators travel at up to 10 metres per second), 196 bronze and brass cymbals hanging in the lobby to represent the countries of the world, an outside swimming pool, restaurants, observation points, 12 man-made lakes and a mosque which must surely be the highest place of worship ever. To give you some idea of the scale of this building, Canary Wharf in London is 234m, the Empire State is 443.2m, Taipei 101 is 508m and the Burj Khalifa is 828m high. To construct this building it took 320,000 cubic metres of concrete, 55,000 tonnes of steel, 22 million man hours, and concrete was pumped to a height of 606m, which is a world record. The foundations consists of 192 piles, each 1.5m in diameter and 43m long and they are buried more than 50m deep. The foundations thus far have already sunk 6cm. What an incredible feat of engineering.
I went to an independent Record Shop called Rough Trade East in Brick Lane, London, with my wife Sheila, my son Romeo and Sheila’s boss Mark. This is just around the corner from where Sheila and Mark work. What a civilised way to browse through a record store. You can have a coffee while looking through some of the most fantastic vinyl racks I have seen in a while. There are also racks of obscure CDs from all over the world, as well as an array of books, DVDs and T-shirts, etc. We stayed there for a while, and I ended up buying two live Neil Young CDs and two books. Had we been there any longer, I would have needed a pickup truck to ferry my purchases home, as the temptation was so close to hand, and restraint was moving further away. This is quite a famous shop, and one of the things that they do is to have a photo booth where you can get your picture taken, and they put it up on the rogues’ gallery wall. Johnny Marr was up there amongst others. Well Sheila, Romeo, Mark and I piled into the cubicle, and had ours taken too! They looked great.
Well, that’s it for this week’s ramblings!
Tags: Andy Fraser, Fever Ray, Free, Green Day, Johnny Marr, Kings Of Leon, Lady GaGa, Manic Street Preachers, Massive Attack, Mick Box, muse, Neil Young, Paul Kossoff, Paul Rodgers, Queen, Simon Kirke, Trevor Bolder, Uriah Heep